A friend at another blog linked to an important article about ecumenism, which I wanted to discuss here.
(First, a note to the reader: after today this blog will be Out to Lunch, probably for the next couple weeks, as I take care of some physical world tasks that need doing, and I will be without internet access for part of that duration and with very little free time for even more of it. Some readers may feel that the posts have been out to lunch for a while now, but this is not an admission of doctrinal error…)
I particularly appreciated Dr. DeVille’s points #5 and #7 (with honorable mention to #6). Top-level ecumenical contact may often elicit a “who cares?” from the people in the pew. After all, what could such contact possibly accomplish? At this stage, perhaps the best it can accomplish is to provide a model for friendship and cooperation to all Christians. The biggest obstacle to ecumenism is not what so-and-so did to such-and-such back in the X century (whether that’s 431 or 538 or 1054 or 1204), nor even disagreements about ideas and practices (though such disagreements are real). The single biggest obstacle to real church unity is a nebulous congregational sense that those people over there are not like us. I have been asked, in all sincerity, whether Catholics and Evangelicals worship the same God (and the person was very reassured when I gave a positive answer). And the best way to allay misconceptions is to get to know people. (This works equally well for allaying misconceptions about anything, for example racial differences, Islam or other religions, and political partisan differences.) Such conversations can (and perhaps should) start off away from the topic at issue and just involve getting to know another human being. And after you discover that the other person does beautiful handicrafts, or likes the same sports team you do, or has a funny sense of humor, or has excellent taste in wine (or books or music), in other words, after you discover that the other person is a human being, then you can approach the topic at issue with the curiosity to discover how is it that your new friend thinks differently than you. Dr. DeVille gives other very easy suggestions in his piece, so you should go read it.
But Dr. DeVille’s most important point point is #7. Ecumenism is not optional. In addition to our Lord’s prayer in John 17 which he cited, my mainstay is the only command which Jesus added to the Law: “34 A new command I give you: that you love one another, so that just as I have loved you you may love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Dr. DeVille makes the point that church division hinders Christian witness, because God is one, so why aren’t we? This was exactly my experience. Before I became a Christian (over a decade ago now), I had a ready answer to any Christian friend who asked why I was not Christian: “Those Christians are so divided they don’t even know what they think about anything, so why should I join them and add to the muddle?” But God had grace and mercy on me in my blindness, and he dragged me to himself; only after I was there did I see that there is a deeper unity among all true Christians which transcends denominational structures and differences of dogma (which is not to say that either structure or dogma are inherently unimportant!). I am grateful for God’s grace, and I continue to pray for my family members and friends from that period to find, or rather be found by, the grace that I have. But I also wish to take practical steps to make it harder for people like me to use visible Christian divisions as an easy excuse not to believe. Christians are already one, in the one Holy Spirit of God, but we need to live visibly in light of this fact. Ecumenism is obligatory, not only for pope and patriarch, but for all people.